It was the summer of 2004. My younger son had his vacations. It was right time for us to make plans for some unusual trip. In those days, a number of travel companies were offering package tours for families of three or four, i.e., couple plus one or two kids. We thought of going on an 11-day package tour of Europe, comprising five countries, through SOTC or Kuoni Travels. The package consisted of England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and France.
Everything began as per plan and we were around 30 members in our group. After leaving India, our first disembarkation was at Melbourne. A travel guide representing SOTC received us at Melbourne Airport. After freshening up, we saw the important places at Melbourne, such as the Birmingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Melbourne Eye, Madame Tussauds, and retired for the night at the designated hotel.
Next morning, we left by Eurostar train from Melbourne to Brussels, Belgium. It was a lovely experience. We enjoyed Manneken statue and the market place. We stayed overnight at Brussels after touring the city and then we set off for Germany the next morning, by road. The travel was enjoyable and all of us had lot of fun and frolic on the way, singing and joking and watching video movies in the long bus and silver cabs Melbourne. Our driver was an Italian who spoke broken English and we dragged him too in our conversation.
We reached Heidelberg at night and it was quite late by the time we reached the concerned hotel. The hotel manager had already allotted the rooms to other visitors, expecting us not to turn up for the night. We had no option and our tourist guide, Mr. Deepak Savant, took us to another hotel Melbourne. Next morning, we set about on sight seeing again and we first visited the cathedral at Melbourne. We lit candles and prayed for the welfare of our loved ones. It is an amazingly huge cathedral with matching architecture. At Heidelberg, we were asked to go round the market place and get back to the bus. We were all moving in a crowd, and suddenly I spotted lovely looking apples in a shop and wanted to buy them, and entered the shop When we came out, to our utter shock, we could not locate our group and no amount of frantic search could help us in locating the bus. We knew we had missed our bus, which was on its way to Lucerne, Switzerland. For some time, we were in a state of utter disbelief. Imagine getting stranded in a foreign country without your luggage and strange people.
Fortunately, we had the telephone number and address of the hotel at Engelberg, Switzerland. One kind person in the market place allowed us to use his mobile (we didn’t have one with us) and we could contact the SOTC travel agent at Engelberg. He advised us not to panic, book a maxi cab Melbourne and go to Heidelberg railway station and reach Lucerne. We expected it to be a very simple affair. It was only after reaching the station, did we realize that we had to catch three connecting trains to reach Lucerne, i.e., Heidelberg to Mannheim, Mannheim to Basel and Basel to Lucerne. We bought three sets of tickets which cost us 125 euros. The train timings mentioned in the tickets were so perfectly adhered to by the arriving and departing trains that we were very impressed with the excellent service and punctuality. In the third leg of our journey, that is from Basel to Lucerne the immigration authorities checked our papers and only then we could heave a sigh of relief and eat the apples at leisure. At Lucerne again, we had to take the cog and wheel express to Engelberg which was the last lap of our journey. We had managed to reach our hotel much before other friends of ours to their surprise. Our entire train journey in Germany was thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. People were very cordial and helpful throughout our train journey. Hail Germany.